Alright, look: There was a time, not long ago, when being a Twins fan was a joy. Like gardening. Calming, occasionally fun, usually fruitful. You could talk about it with other fans and, more often than not, smile. Sure, there were always nagging issues—a pest to be ridded, a promising sprout that didn’t bloom. (Sorry, I’m not actually a gardener, but I’m having fun with the analogy.) Point is: Those days are gone. The era of the fair-weather hobbyist-fan is over. Twins fandom is now a job, and not an easy one. So: Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to it.
The first order of business: Some context. In case you’ve forgotten—and Lord knows I’ve tried—the hometown nine spent their second season in their lovely new ballpark spending more money than ever before and came away with a whopper of a season to show for it. As much as I enjoy Burger King and malted milk balls, I’m using “whopper” as a pejorative here. They had 99 losses, but the real bitch: Our beloved “M&M” boys crashed to Earth with such force that they may never recover. Fans booed. It was that bad.
The team’s brass chalked the season up to a perfect storm of injuries, and they may have a point, although injuries don’t completely tell the story of the scouting failure that is Tsuyoshi Nishioka (a former batting champion from Japan who landed stateside and appeared to have never played the game of baseball before). Nor does it account for Liriano’s mental state (foggy, with nary a concussion to blame for it), Nick Blackburn’s contract (among baseball’s starting pitchers who are physically incapable of the feat known as the strikeout, he remains the richest), or the existence of Drew Butera (unnecessary—but then again, they wouldn’t be the Twins if they didn’t roster at least one player who would be lucky to make any other team’s AAA squad. See: Tolbert, Matt).
By wiping away the shitstorm that was the 2011 season by blaming injuries alone, the Twins can claim to be building a contending team again in 2012 simply by bringing back the same squad only healthier. That said, it still won’t be the same squad. Most notably, Terry Ryan is back as the General Manager, replacing Bill Smith—and the crowd went wild. Mr. Ryan got right to doing what Mr. Ryan does, which is search the bargain bins for position players who will likely turn into valuable assets (Jamey Carroll, Ryan Doumit, Josh Willingham—although he stands out as one of the most expensive free agent signings in Twins history, which still doesn’t say much) and pitchers that almost certainly won’t (Jason Marquis).
In the weeks leading up to spring training, I’ll take a look at each of these moves and the players involved, in an effort to deduce just what kind of team the Twins have assembled for us this year. I’ll take a look at the moves made by the other A.L. Central teams as well. And hopefully I can give readers of this fine blog something other than basketball to chew on.
Spoiler alert: I don’t think the Twins are going to compete this year. I’m not alone in that thinking. But that’s what makes being a Twins fan hard work these days. We still have to put in the hours. And some of that hard work comes in the form of remaining optimistic in the face of increasingly long odds. Let’s do this.